Implications And Future Of Internet Gis Computer Science Essay

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Internet GIS is a rapidly developing technology and as such many questions are raised. These are about its applications, relevance, implications and future. The first thing to consider what is internet GIS?

(Shekhar, Xiong 2008) define 'internet GIS' as

'Network-based geographic information services which utilize both wired and wireless internet to access and distribute geographic information, spatial analytical tools, and GIS web services.'

Breaking down this description we look first at the 'network based' portion. Internet GIS works on the basis of communication between a server and a client (Peng 1999). In most modern Internet 3rd generation internet GIS applications it is Server weighted meaning the user will send a request to a GIS server which will carry out the appropriate processing and return the output to the user (Bock, O'Leary 2010). The second portion 'To access and distribute geographic data' is also key. A large part of internet GIS is making use of the huge amounts of stored geographical data (Peng, Tsou 2003) This data is often combined with other sources to create Mash Ups which can be used to improve the dissemination of data (Haklay, Singleton & Parker 2008).


With the introduction of the internet in the 1980s the way that GIS is used has shown notable change.(Chow 2008) The first generation of Internet maps appeared in 1993 with Xerox producing PARC viewer; the first well known example of a static map (Peng, Tsou 2003), (Plewe 1997). PARC viewer used html to request maps from a server-side GIS to present a gif image of the map based upon the users query (Putz 1994).

The 2nd generation of Internet GIS gave rapid development followed between 1994 and 1996 with input from government agencies and universities (Plewe 1997). These early systems where slow but functionality was rapidly improving (Plewe 1997). These services began to make use of asynchronous java and xml (AJAX) (Bock, O'Leary 2010).

As the Web increased in power so did the power of internet GIS (Peng 1999). As the cost of creating such services so the number of online internet gis application sawed (Haklay, Singleton & Parker 2008).Systems moved away from the traditional centralised GIS system and towards distributed GIS services (Peng, Tsou 2003). This server orientated internet GIS was the start of the 3rd generation of internet maps (Bock, O'Leary 2010)These modern systems do not require the user to have GIS software installed but rather uses the internet for data and processing related communication. (Peng, Tsou 2003)

Part of the 3rd generation was the development of Map application programming interfaces or APIs in June 2005(Chow 2008). (Chow 2008) points out that this step made the production of Geographic data available to the masses but still lacked in the ability to carry out many GIS functions. Where functionality is concerned more powerful applications are required such as ARC Server (ESRI 2010) or MapEXtreme (Map Info 2010)

Based on Kraak's ranking system collaborative web maps are the most sophisticated maps (Kraak 2001). These services rely on a network of contributors to create and input the spatial data while having one consistent output; the best known example being OpenStreetmap. This service allows users to collect data about areas and present it as a detailed map (Scharl et al. 2007). Google uses a similar principle to collect data in areas where they have been unable to licence data or would like to gain more data (Google 2010).

The present generation of internet GIS known as 4th Generation is still in its infancy but is moving back to the more traditional thick-client operation (Bock, O'Leary 2010). These modern services make use of services such as Adobe Flex and Google's API to make richer more visually impressive content (Bock, O'Leary 2010)


A number of factors point to the fact that internet GIS is much more of an open system than traditional GISystems (Dragicevic 2004). It is no longer a requirement to be a trained cartographer or programmer as many map creation interfaces have been simplified and basic functionality has been made more intuitive . As a result of this all of a sudden people are using Internet GIS for tasks such as showing personal information, producing personalised maps etc and as such more people are aware of the GeoWeb even if they don't know that they are actually using it (Peng, Tsou 2003). There have been suggestions that the availability of Internet GIS have increased the use and awareness of maps as a whole (Nivala, Brewster & Sarjakoski 2008).


As with many internet applications a number of issues have come to light. Specifically relating to data ownership, privacy and accuracy of data (Elwood, Leszczynski ). An example of a privacy issue being Google Street, view which records high quality photo imagery from roads. These images record everything visible from the road including number plates and peoples face. Though Google has produced a methodology to remove faces and numbers this system has not been perfect leading to many complaints (Elwood, Leszczynski ).

Data ownership has also become a big issue in internet GIS. Many examples of MASH UPS combine freely available base map data with data scraped from other sources. One of the first examples was the combination of craigslist data with a Google base map in 2005 (Haklay, Singleton & Parker 2008). Much data is available freely but based on a Creative commons agreement such as OpenStreetMap which allows you to use their datasets freely as long as you do not charge for a future service using this data (OpenStreetMap 2010). Other providers such as ordnance survey however charge for there high quality data sets as they are expected as a government organisation to be self sustaining (Haklay, Singleton & Parker 2008).

Collaborative mapping projects such as OpenStreetMap also raise the issue of data accuracy when a large audience is able to use and edit attribute information. In this situation approval schemes are in operation so all system updates can be authenticated but this is not the case with all open Internet GIS applications (OpenStreetMap. 2010).


There are 3 main applications of GIS on the internet. GIS data access, spatial information dissemination and GIS processing. (Peng 1999) To start we will consider GIS data access. The cost of online distribution of data is very cheap. Data needs to be stored in one location and can then be accessed from any number of locations without extra software (Peng, Tsou 2003) GI data can now be accessed from a range of devices from personal computers down to PDAs and mobile devices (Longley, Goodchild 2005). Much of this data is freely available through government organisation and providers such as Google Maps and UK national statistics (Longley 2005).

The other key ability of Internet GIS is to disseminate data (Peng 1999). Organisations can distribute the results of GI analysis and can show spatial patterns to a much wider audience (Peng 1999). Internet GIS creates an easy to understand end of GIS which a user unfamiliar with GIS is able to understand and interpret (Koehl, Joseph 2008). A good example of this is, a service which combined accommodation data from craigslist with a Google base map (Haklay, Singleton & Parker 2008). This service instantly put Craigslist data into a visual easy to use format making it overall more accessible (Jin Yu et al. 2008).

An area where internet GIS is becoming better used is public participation (Peng 2001). (Peng 2001) explores the idea that by allowing public analysis the overall design and implementing of schemes planning can be carried out further. He does also point out though that although this tool can be powerful it is limited to those who choose to make use of it.

A strength of internet GIS is the ability to carry out geoprocessing even when desktop gis software is unavailable. A client is able to send a query to a map server which can carry out geo processing request and then transmit back the results {{151 Peng,Zhong-Ren 2003}}.

Future of Internet GIS

Internet GIS has now reached the point where it is considered to be a powerful tool capable of undertaking almost all aspects of traditional GIS (Dragicevic 2004). We can now be considered to be entering the 4th generation of internet mapping (Bock, O'Leary 2010). The aim of 4th generation internet mapping being to improve the realism of web mapping. This is done through the use of immersive environments. Examples include Google street view and virtual globes (Plewe 2007). (Plewe 2007) goes on to suggest that the programmer dominated development of 4th generation web mapping is resulting in modern maps although simple being of a much poorer cartographical standard than traditional paper maps.

(Plewe 2007) suggests a number of areas where Internet GIS should progress. These include improved design and interactiveness of web cartography, improve performance, higher impact applications and finally better societal integration. Many of these aspects will come in time as the speed of the internet is increased and technological skills develop.

Now that the ability to use spatial data online as part of Internet GIS has been improved there are a number of suggestions for the future including more standardised data formats (Peng, Tsou 2003). Open source Internet GIS is another area which is predicted to grow as more people require online map services whilst not being able to afford bigger brand products such as ArcServer.


Considering the short time that Internet GIS has been in existence its development has been huge. Starting with a very simple static map of the world in 1993 (Plewe 1997)and now a virtual reality where a user can explore streets where they have never been (Bock, O'Leary 2010), from any internet enabled device. In line with the rate of development so have the number of applications increased (Peng 1999). With MapQuest producing the first analytic web map in 1997 allowing a user to query turn by turn directions between 2 points the applications have risen hugely to allow thousands of different data sets owned by many different organisation to be made public (Plewe 1997). The vast quantity of data now available means that new and more creative means are required in order to interpret and utilise this data with research suggesting the use of augmented or virtual reality (Huang, Jiang & Li 2001). Based on the current level of development internet GIS is likely to continue growing benefitting from improved internet bandwidth and speed combined with rapidly developing technology.